"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Dis-information Campaigns’

The Gravitational Pull Of Planet Carbon: 3 Signs Of Retreat In The Global War On Climate Change

In Uncategorized on February 18, 2014 at 6:05 pm

(Photo<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-7831615/stock-photo-global-warming.html?src=6I-ZN9Z-fBxQ2P_Qkq35FA-3-95" target="_blank"> via Shutterstock</a>)

Oldspeak: “three recent encounters in the historic struggle to avert the most destructive effects of climate change tell us a great deal about the nature and terrain of the battlefield.  Climate change is not the product of unfortunate meteorological phenomena; it is the result of burning massive quantities of carbon-based fuels and spewing the resulting gaseous wastes into the atmosphere.  As long as governments, corporations, and consumers prefer carbon as an energy source, the war on climate change will be lost and the outcome of that will, in turn, be calamitous-Michael Klare

” The author was spot on in his assessment of what is the above quote. He lost me when he started talking about market-based “solutions” to anthropogenic climate change, like “carbon tax”, “cap-and-trade” and “carbon pricing”. There are no market based or any other kind of solutions at this point.  The damage has been done and it cannot be undone by human activities.  There is no battlefield. The war is over and life lost. Unknown numbers of species are going extinct, en masse, daily. We are bearing witness to Earth’s 6th mass extinction event. Averting the most destructive  effects of global warming and climate change is not possible.  Even if the entire human race stopped burning fossil fuels today, we’d still be totally fucked, as there is a 40 year lag in the effects to be seen from our past emissions. As long as we believe our economic and political systems are superior to global ecological systems, we are doomed, in frighteningly short order, shorter every day. All that’s left to do is prepare; spiritually, physically and practically for the inhuman scale madness to come. ” -OSJ

“We now have an answer to why global temperatures have risen less quickly in recent years than predicted in climate change models. (It’s necessary to add immediately that the issue is only the rate of that rise, since the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998.)  Thanks to years of especially strong Pacific trade winds, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change, much of the extra heat generated by global warming is being buried deep in ocean waters.  Though no one knows for sure, the increase in the power of those winds may itself have been set off by the warming of the Indian Ocean.  In other words, the full effects of the heating of the planet have been postponed, but are still building (and may also be affecting ocean ecology in unpredictable ways).  As Matthew England, the lead scientist in the study, points out, “Even if the [Pacific trade] winds accelerate… sooner or later the impact of greenhouse gases will overwhelm the effect.  And if the winds relax, the heat will come out quickly. As we go through the twenty-first century, we are less and less likely to have a cooler decade. Greenhouse gases will certainly win out in the end.”

Despite the slower rate of temperature rise, the effects of the global heating process are quite noticeable.  Yes, if you’re living somewhere in much of the lower forty-eight, you now know the phrase “polar vortex” the same way you do “Mom” and “apple pie,” and like me, you’re shivering every morning the moment you step outside, or sometimes even in your own house.  That southern shift in the vortex may itself be an artifact of changing global weather patterns caused at least in part by climate change.

In the meantime, in the far north, temperatures have been abnormally high in both Alaska and Greenland; Oslo had a Christmas to remember, and forest fires raged in the Norwegian Arctic this winter.  Then, of course, there is the devastating, worsening drought in California (and elsewhere in the West) now in its third year, and by some accounts the worst in half a millennium, which is bound to drive up global food prices.  There are the above-the-norm temperatures in Sochi that are creating problems keeping carefully stored snow on the ground for Olympic skiers and snowboarders.  And for good measure, toss in storm-battered Great Britain’s wettest December and January in more than a century.  Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere, there’s heat to spare.  There was the devastating January heat wave in Australia, while in parts of Brazil experiencing the worst drought in half-a-century there has never been a hotter month on record than that same month.  If the rains don’t come relatively soon, the city of São Paulo is in danger of running out of water.

It’s clear enough that, with the effects of climate change only beginning to take hold, the planet is already in a state of weather disarray.  Yet, as TomDispatch regular Michael Klare points out today, the forces arrayed against dealing with climate change couldn’t be more powerful.  Given that we’ve built our global civilization on the continuing hit of energy that fossil fuels provide and given the interests arrayed around exploiting that hit, the gravitational pull of what Klare calls “Planet Carbon” is staggering.

Recently, I came across the following passage in Time of Illusion, Jonathan Schell’s 1976 classic about Nixon administration malfeasance.  Schell wrote it with the nuclear issue in mind, but today it has an eerie resonance when it comes to climate change: “In the United States, unprecedented wealth and ease came to coexist with unprecedented danger, and a sumptuous feast of consumable goods was spread out in the shadow of universal death.  Americans began to live as though on a luxuriously appointed death row, where one was free to enjoy every comfort but was uncertain from moment to moment when or if the death sentence might be carried out. The abundance was very much in the forefront of people’s attention, however, and the uncertainty very much in the background; and in the government as well as in the country at large the measureless questions posed by the new weapons were evaded.” Tom

By Michael Klare @ TomDispatch:

Listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address, it would have been easy to conclude that we were slowly but surely gaining in the war on climate change.  “Our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet,” the president said.  “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.”  Indeed, it’s true that in recent years, largely thanks to the dampening effects of the Great Recession, U.S. carbon emissions were in decline (though they grew by 2% in 2013).  Still, whatever the president may claim, we’re not heading toward a “cleaner, safer planet.”  If anything, we’re heading toward a dirtier, more dangerous world.

A series of recent developments highlight the way we are losing ground in the epic struggle to slow global warming.  This has not been for lack of effort.  Around the world, dedicated organizations, communities, and citizens have been working day by day to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote the use of renewable sources of energy.  The struggle to prevent construction of the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline is a case in point.  As noted in a recent New York Times article, the campaign against that pipeline has galvanized the environmental movement around the country and attracted thousands of activists to Washington, D.C., for protests and civil disobedience at the White House.  But efforts like these, heroic as they may be, are being overtaken by a more powerful force: the gravitational pull of cheap, accessible carbon-based fuels, notably oil, coal, and natural gas.

In the past few years, the ever more widespread use of new extractive technologies — notably hydraulic fracturing (to exploit shale deposits) and steam-assisted gravity drainage (for tar sands) — has led to a significant increase in fossil fuel production, especially in North America.  This has left in the dust the likelihood of an imminent “peak” in global oil and gas output and introduced an alternative narrative — much promoted by the energy industry and its boosters — of unlimited energy supplies that will last into the distant future.  Barry Smitherman of the Texas Railroad Commission (which regulates that state’s oil industry) was typical in hailing a “relatively boundless supply” of oil and gas worldwide at a recent meeting of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.

As oil and gas have proven unexpectedly abundant and affordable, major energy consumers are planning to rely on them more — and on renewable sources of energy less — to meet their future requirements.  As a result, the promises we once heard of a substantial decline in fossil fuel use (along with a corresponding boom in renewables) are fading.  According to the most recent projections from the U.S. Department of Energy, global fossil fuel consumption is expected to grow by an astonishing 40% by 2035, jumping from 440 to 615 quadrillion British thermal units.

While the combined share of total world energy that comes from fossil fuels will decline slightly — from 84% to 79% — they will still dominate the global energy marketplace for decades to come.  Renewables, according to these projections, will continue to represent only a small fraction of the total.  If this proves to be accurate, there can be only one plausible outcome: vastly increased carbon emissions leading to rising temperatures and the sort of catastrophic climate change scenarios that now seem almost impossible to imagine.

Think of it this way: in our world, the gravitational pull of carbon exerts itself every minute of every day, shaping the energy decisions of individuals, companies, institutions, and governments.  This pull is leading to defeat in the global struggle to slow the advance of severe climate change and is reflected in three recent developments in the energy news: a declaration of surrender by BP, a major setback in the European Union, and a strategic end-run by Canadian tar sands companies.

BP Announces the Defeat of Renewables

Every year, energy giant BP (once British Petroleum) releases its “Energy Outlook” for the years ahead, an analysis of future trends in global production and consumption.  The 2014 report — extending BP’s energy forecast to the year 2035 — was made public on January 15th.  Typically, its release is accompanied by a press conference in which top BP executives offer commentary on the state of world energy, usually aimed at the business media.  This year, the company’s CEO, Bob Dudley, spoke with unbridled optimism about the future market for his company’s energy products, assuring his audience that the global supply of fossil fuels would remain substantial for years to come.  (Dudley took over the helm at BP after his predecessor, Tony Hayward, was dumped in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.)

“The picture in terms of resources in the ground is a good one,” he noted.  “It’s very different to past concerns about supply peaking.  The theory of peak oil seems to have — well — peaked.”

This, no doubt, produced the requisite smiles from Dudley’s oil-friendly audience.  Then his comments took a darker turn.  Can we satisfy the world’s energy requirements with fuels that are sustainable, he asked.  “Not at the moment,” he admitted.  Because of a rising tide of fossil fuel consumption, he added, “carbon emissions are currently projected to rise — by 29% by 2035, we estimate in the Outlook.”  He acknowledged that, whatever good news might be found in that document, in this area “steps are needed to change the forecast.”

Next, Dudley tried to put a hopeful spin on the long-term climate prospect.  By replacing coal-fired power plants with less-carbon-polluting natural gas, he indicated, overall greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced.  Increasing the efficiency of energy-consuming devices, he added, will also help.  All of this, however, adds up to little when it comes to the big picture of carbon emissions.  In the end, he could point to few signs of progress in the struggle to slow the advance of climate change.  “In 2035, we project that gas and coal will account for 54% of global energy demand [and oil another 27%].  While renewables will grow rapidly, their share will reach just 7%.”

Most of the media coverage of Dudley’s appearance focused on his expectations of long-term energy abundance, not what it would do to us or our planet.  Several commentators were, however, quick to note how unusual it was for an oil company CEO to address the problem of carbon emissions at all, no less express something verging on despair over the prospect of making any progress in curbing them.

“[Dudley] concludes… [that] the world is still a long way from delivering the peak in greenhouse gas emissions many scientists advise has to be achieved within the next decade to minimize the risk of dangerous climate change,” observed energy analyst James Murray at businessGreen.com.

Europe’s Retrenchment

The member states of the European Union (EU) have long exercised global leadership in the struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the pace of climate change.  Under their justly celebrated 20-20-20 plan, adopted in December 2008, they are committed to reducing their emissions by 20% over 1990 levels by 2020, increasing their overall energy efficiency by 20%, and achieving 20% reliance on renewables in total energy consumption.  No other region has embraced goals as ambitious as these, and none has invested greater resources in their implementation.  Any wavering from this path would signal a significant retrenchment in the global climate struggle.

It now appears that Europe is preparing to rein in the pace of its drive to slow global warming.  At issue is not the implementation of the 20-20-20 plan, which is well on its way to being achieved, but on the goals that should follow it.  Climate activists and green energy entrepreneurs have been calling for an even more ambitious set of targets for 2030 and beyond; many manufacturers and other major energy consumers have been pushing for a slower pace of change, claiming that increased reliance on renewables is driving up energy prices and so diminishing their economic competitiveness.  Already, it appears that the industrialists are gaining ground at the expense of climate action.

At stake is the EU’s climate blueprint for 2030, the next major threshold in its drive to slow the pace of warming. On January 22nd, the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission (EC), released its guidelines for the new plan, which must still be approved by the EU Parliament and its member states.  While touted by some as a sign of continued European commitment to decisive climate action, the EC’s plan is viewed as a distinct setback by many environmental leaders.

At first glance, the plan looks promising.  It calls for a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 — a huge drop from the 2020 requirement.  This is, however, less dramatic than it may appear, analysts say, because energy initiatives already under way in Europe under the 20-20-20 plan, coupled with a region-wide economic slowdown, will make a 40% reduction quite feasible without staggering effort.  Meanwhile, other aspects of the plan are downright worrisome.  There is no mandate for a further increase in energy efficiency and, far more important, the mandate for increased reliance on renewables — at 27%, a significant gain — is not binding on individual states but on the EU as a whole.  This makes both implementation and enforcement questionable matters.  Jens Tartler, a spokesperson for the German Renewable Energy Federation (which represents that country’s wind and solar industries), called the lack of binding national goals for renewables “totally disappointing,” claiming it would “contribute to a marked reduction in the pace of expansion of renewables.”

To explain this evident slackening in Europe’s climate commitment, analysts point to the immense pressures being brought by manufacturers and others who decry the region’s rising energy prices caused, in part, by increased subsidies for renewables.  “Behind the heated debate in Brussels about climate and renewable energy targets, what is really happening is that concern over high energy prices has taken precedence over climate concerns in Europe,” says Sonja van Renssen, the Brussels correspondent for Energy Post, an online journal.  “Many [EU] member states and industry fear that a strong climate and energy policy will be bad for their economies.”

In arguing their case, proponents of diluted climate goals note that EU policies have raised the cost of producing a metric ton of aluminum in Europe by 11% and that European steel companies pay twice as much for electricity and four times as much for natural gas as their U.S. counterparts.  These, and similar phenomena, are “dragging the EU economy down,” wrote Mark C. Lewis, former head of energy research at Deutsche Bank.

Not surprisingly, many European manufacturers seek to reduce subsidies for renewables and urge greater reliance on less-costly fossil fuels.  In particular, some officials, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, are eager to follow the U.S. lead and bring advanced technologies like hydro-fracking to bear on the extraction of more oil and natural gas from Europe’s domestic reserves.  “Europe’s hydrocarbons production is in decline,” noted Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency, but “there may be some opportunities… to slow down and perhaps reverse some of these trends” — notably by imitating the “revolution in hydrocarbon production” now under way in the United States.

Read this another way and a new and truly unsettling meaning emerges: the “shale gas revolution” being promoted with such fervor by President Obama as a “bridge” to a more climate-friendly energy system in the United States is having the opposite effect in Europe.  It is weakening the EU’s commitment to renewable energy and threatens to increase Europe’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Canada’s End-Run Around Keystone XL Pipeline Opposition

Much to the surprise of everyone, climate activists in the United States led by environmental author and activist Bill McKibben and the action group he helped to found, 350.org, have succeeded in delaying U.S. government approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for more than two years.  Once considered a sure thing, the pipeline, if completed, will carry 830,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen (“syncrude”) some 1,700 miles from the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.  It has, however, been held up by detailed environmental impact studies and other procedural steps ordered by the U.S. State Department.  (Because the pipeline will cross an international boundary, it requires approval from the Secretary of State and, ultimately, the president, but not Congress.)

Opponents of the pipeline claim that by facilitating the exploitation of particularly carbon-dense Canadian tar sands, it will substantially increase greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.  The use of this bitumen-based fuel releases more carbon per unit of energy than conventional petroleum and its energy-intensive extraction generates additional carbon emissions.  Should all of the bitumen in Canada — the equivalent of 1 trillion barrels of oil — be consumed, it’s “game over for the climate,” as former NASA climate scientist James Hansen has famously written.

How the Obama administration will come down on Keystone XL is still unknown.  In a speech on climate policy last June, the president indicated that he would give highest priority to climate considerations when deciding on the pipeline.  “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest,” he said.  “And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”  At the time, his comments raised the hopes of climate activists that Obama would ultimately decide against the pipeline.  More recently, however, an environmental assessment conducted at the behest of the State Department and released on January 31st cast doubt on this outcome.  The report’s reasoning: even though the exploitation of Canada’s tar sands will increase the pace of carbon emissions, their extraction and delivery to refineries is assured by alternative means — mainly rail — if the pipeline isn’t built and so its construction will not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

While this is certainly a uniquely sophistic (and shaky) argument, it is important to note that the Canadian producers and their U.S. partners are indeed attempting to stage an end-run around opposition to the pipeline by increasing their reliance on rail cars to deliver tar sands.

“The indecision on Keystone XL really spawned innovation and mobilized alternatives, and rail is a clear part of the options available to our industry,” observed Paul Reimer, senior vice president in charge of transport at Cenovus Energy, a Canadian oil company planning to increase rail shipments from 7,000 barrels a day to as many as 30,000 barrels a day by the end of 2014.  Other Canadian firms have similar expansion plans.  All told, the Canadians claim that, over the coming years, they will be able to increase rail-carrying capacity from the current 180,000 barrels per day to as much as 900,000 barrels, or more than would be carried by the pipeline.

If this were to happen, count on one thing: rail transport will turn out to have its own problems — and its own opposition.  Not surprisingly, then, Canada’s oil industry still craves approval for Keystone XL, as it would allow even greater tar sands exports and legitimize the use of this carbon-heavy fuel.  But the growing reliance on rail transportation does once again demonstrate the powerful gravitational pull of Planet Carbon.  “At the end of the day, there’s a consensus among most energy experts that the oil will get shipped to market no matter what,” says Robert McNally, a former energy adviser to President George W. Bush.

Reducing Carbon’s Pull

These three recent encounters in the historic struggle to avert the most destructive effects of climate change tell us a great deal about the nature and terrain of the battlefield.  Climate change is not the product of unfortunate meteorological phenomena; it is the result of burning massive quantities of carbon-based fuels and spewing the resulting gaseous wastes into the atmosphere.  As long as governments, corporations, and consumers prefer carbon as an energy source, the war on climate change will be lost and the outcome of that will, in turn, be calamitous.

There is only one way to avert the worst effects of climate change: make the consumption of carbon unattractive.  This can be accomplished, in part, by shaming — portraying the producers of carbon-rich fuels as the enemies of human health and survival.  It’s an approach that has already achieved some modest successes, as in the prevention, until now, of Keystone’s construction.  Withdrawing funds from fossil fuel firms, or disinvestment, is another useful approach.  Many student and religious groups are attempting to hinder oil drilling activities by pushing their colleges and congregations to move their investment funds elsewhere.

But shaming and disinvestment campaigns are insufficient; much tougher sanctions are required.  To stop the incineration of our planet, carbon must be made expensive — so costly, in fact, that renewables become the common fuel of choice.

There are at least two ways to move toward accomplishing this: impose a tax on carbon emissions, raising the cost of fossil fuels above those of renewables; or adopt a universal cap-and-trade system, forcing major carbon emitters to buy permits (at ever-increasing cost) in order to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  Both measures have been advocated by environmentalists and some attempts have been made to institute each of them.  (Both California and the European Union, for example, are implementing cap-and-trade systems.)  There may be other approaches to the problem that could prove even more effective, but the most essential thing is to recognize that genuine progress on climate change will not be possible until carbon fuels lose their financial allure.  For this to happen, as BP’s Dudley begrudgingly acknowledged on January 15th, “you need carbon pricing.  Universally accepted carbon pricing.”

The gravitational pull of carbon is immensely powerful.  It cannot be overcome by symbolic gestures or half measures.  The pressures to keep burning fossil fuels are too great to be overcome in piecemeal fashion.  Rather, these forces must be met head-on, with the institutionalization of equally powerful counter-forces that make fossil fuels economically unattractive.  We humans have a choice: we can succumb to carbon’s gravitational pull and so suffer from increasingly harsh planetary conditions, or resist and avoid the most deadly consequences of climate change.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.

 

Bi-Partisan NDAA Provision Would End Current Ban On Domestic Dissemination Of Propaganda By U.S. State Department & Pentagon

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Oldspeak:”This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer” -Will RogersNothing speaks more urgently to the creeping fascism of American politics than the assertion by our “representatives”, who apparently have never read a book on Germany in the 1930s-1940s or on the Soviet Union in the Stalin period, that forbidding DoD and the State Department from subjecting us to government propaganda “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.” And mind you, they want to use our own money to wash our brains!” Juan Cole The thought controllers, ever brazen in their audacity, have decided to officially do away with laws alleged to “prevent” them from doing what they have been doing for the past 100 years. Not sure what will be terribly different about the propaganda, we’re currently inundated with it. More overt perhaps? That wouldn’t make much sense though, why fix what’s been working to devastating effect for a century? *Shrugs* “Ignorance is Strength

By Washington’s Blog:

Because Banning Propaganda “Ties the Hands of America’s Diplomatic Officials, Military, and Others by Inhibiting Our Ability to Effectively Communicate In a Credible Way”

Michael Hastings reports:

An amendment that would legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences is being inserted into the latest defense authorization bill….

The amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the Pentagon, according to the summary of the law at the House Rules Committee’s official website.

The tweak to the bill would essentially neutralize two previous acts—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—that had been passed to protect U.S. audiences from our own government’s misinformation campaigns.

The bi-partisan amendment is sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry from Texas and Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State.

In a little noticed press release earlier in the week — buried beneath the other high-profile issues in the $642 billion defense bill, including indefinite detention and a prohibition on gay marriage at military installations — Thornberry warned that in the Internet age, the current law “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.”

The bill’s supporters say the informational material used overseas to influence foreign audiences is too good to not use at home, and that new techniques are needed to help fight Al-Qaeda, a borderless enemy whose own propaganda reaches Americans online.

Critics of the bill say there are ways to keep America safe without turning the massive information operations apparatus within the federal government against American citizens.

***

“I just don’t want to see something this significant – whatever the pros and cons – go through without anyone noticing,” “ says one source on the Hill, who is disturbed by the law. According to this source, the law would allow “U.S. propaganda intended to influence foreign audiences to be used on the domestic population.”

The new law would give sweeping powers to the State Department and Pentagon to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public. “It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”

According to this official, “senior public affairs” officers within the Department of Defense want to “get rid” of Smith-Mundt and other restrictions because it prevents information activities designed to prop up unpopular policies—like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Critics of the bill point out that there was rigorous debate when Smith Mundt passed, and the fact that this is so “under the radar,” as the Pentagon official puts it, is troubling.

***

The evaporation of Smith-Mundt and other provisions to safeguard U.S. citizens against government propaganda campaigns is part of a larger trend within the diplomatic and military establishment.

In December, the Pentagon used software to monitor the Twitter debate over Bradley Manning’s pre-trial hearing; another program being developed by the Pentagon would design software to create “sock puppets” on social media outlets; and, last year, General William Caldwell, deployed an information operations team under his command that had been trained in psychological operations to influence visiting American politicians to Kabul.

The upshot, at times, is the Department of Defense using the same tools on U.S. citizens as on a hostile, foreign, population.

A U.S. Army whistleblower, Lieutenant Col. Daniel Davis, noted recently in his scathing 84-page unclassified report on Afghanistan that there remains a strong desire within the defense establishment “to enable Public Affairs officers to influence American public opinion when they deem it necessary to “protect a key friendly center of gravity, to wit US national will,” he wrote, quoting a well-regarded general.

The defense bill passed the House Friday afternoon.

Juan Cole notes:

Nothing speaks more urgently to the creeping fascism of American politics than the assertion by our representatives, who apparently have never read a book on Germany in the 1930s-1940s or on the Soviet Union in the Stalin period, that forbidding DoD and the State Department from subjecting us to government propaganda “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.” And mind you, they want to use our own money to wash our brains!

***

Of course, having a Pentagon propaganda unit at all is highly anti-democratic. The best defense of the truth is a free press. It should also be remembered that nowadays everything in Washington is outsourced, so government propaganda is often being turned over to Booz Allen or the American Enterprise Institute ….

Doing propaganda abroad has the difficulty that it doesn’t stay abroad. False articles placed in the Arabic press in Iraq were translated into English by wire services, who got stung.

Then, another problem is that the Defense Intelligence Agency analysts *also* read the false articles placed in the Arabic press by *another* Pentagon office, which they did not know about. So the analysts were passing up to the White House false information provided by their own colleagues!

Mediaite points out:

The military has been trying to find new avenues for spread U.S. propaganda on social media websites for a while now. A 2011 Wired piece details how the Department of Defense has been working on ways to monitor and engage in “countermessaging” on social media sites like Twitter.

Government Has Been Illegally Using Propaganda for Decades

Of course – even though it is currently illegal – the government has already been using propaganda against U.S. audiences for decades.   Government agencies – including both the Department of Defense and other agencies – are actively manipulating social media for propaganda purposes, to crush dissent (and see this), to help the too big to fail businesses compete against smaller businesses (and here), and to promote viewpoints which have nothing to do with keeping us safe.

For example:

  • The New York Times discusses in a matter-of-fact way the use of mainstream writers by the CIA to spread messages
  • A 4-part BBC documentary called the “Century of the Self” shows that an American – Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays – created the modern field of manipulation of public perceptions, and the U.S. government has extensively used his techniques
  • The Independent discusses allegations of American propaganda
  • And one of the premier writers on journalism says the U.S. has used widespread propaganda

We noted in 2009:

The U.S. government long ago announced its intention to “fight the net”.

As revealed by an official Pentagon report signed by Rumsfeld called “Information Operations Roadmap”:

The roadmap [contains an] acknowledgement that
information put out as part of the military’s psychological
operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and
television screens of ordinary Americans.

“Information intended for foreign audiences, including public
diplomacy and Psyops, is increasingly consumed by our domestic
audience,” it reads.

“Psyops messages will often be replayed by the news media for much
larger audiences, including the American public,” it goes on.

***

“Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of
Defense] will ‘fight the net’ as it would an enemy weapons system”.

Indeed, the Pentagon publicly announced years ago that it was considering using “black propaganda” – in other words, knowing lies.

CENTCOM announced in 2008 that a team of employees would be “[engaging] bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information.”

The Air Force is now also engaging bloggers. Indeed, an Air Force spokesman said:

“We obviously have many more concerns regarding cyberspace than a typical Social Media user,” Capt. Faggard says. “I am concerned with how insurgents or potential enemies can use Social Media to their advantage. It’s our role to provide a clear and accurate, completely truthful and transparent picture for any audience.”

In other words, the government is targeting “social media”, including popular user-ranked news sites.

In addition, when you look at what the Israeli lobby has done with Megaphone software to automatically vote stories questioning Israel down and to send pro-Israel letters to politicians and media (see this, this and this), you can start to see how the U.S. military – an even larger and better-funded organization – could substantially influence voting on social news sites with very little effort.

Moreover,the military has outsourced many projects to private contractors. For example, in Iraq, much of the fighting has been outsourced to Blackwater. And governmental intelligence functions have largely been outsourced to private companies.

It is therefore not impossible that the government is hiring cheap labor to downvote stories on the social media sites which question the government, and to post pro-government comments.

Raw Story reported last year that the Air Force ordered software to manage army of sock puppets:

Internet users would be well advised to ask another question entirely: Are my “friends” even real people?In the continuing saga of data security firm HBGary, a new caveat has come to light: not only did they plot to help destroy secrets outlet WikiLeaks and discredit progressive bloggers, they also crafted detailed proposals for software that manages online “personas,” allowing a single human to assume the identities of as many fake people as they’d like.

The revelation was among those contained in the company’s emails, which were dumped onto bittorrent networks after hackers with cyber protest group “Anonymous” broke into their systems.

In another document unearthed by “Anonymous,” one of HBGary’s employees also mentioned gaming geolocation services to make it appear as though selected fake persons were at actual events.

“There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas,” it said.

Government involvement

Eerie as that may be, more perplexing, however, is a federal contract from the 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, located south of Tampa, Florida, that solicits providers of “persona management software.”

While there are certainly legitimate applications for such software, such as managing multiple “official” social media accounts from a single input, the more nefarious potential is clear.

Unfortunately, the Air Force’s contract description doesn’t help dispel their suspicions either. As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be “replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent.”

It continues, noting the need for secure virtual private networks that randomize the operator’s Internet protocol (IP) address, making it impossible to detect that it’s a single person orchestrating all these posts. Another entry calls for static IP address management for each persona, making it appear as though each fake person was consistently accessing from the same computer each time.

The contract also sought methods to anonymously establish virtual private servers with private hosting firms in specific geographic locations. This would allow that server’s “geosite” to be integrated with their social media profiles, effectively gaming geolocation services.

The Air Force added that the “place of performance” for the contract would be at MacDill Air Force Base, along with Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad. The contract was offered on June 22, 2010.

It was not clear exactly what the Air Force was doing with this software, or even if it had been procured.

Manufacturing consent

Though many questions remain about how the military would apply such technology, the reasonable fear should be perfectly clear. “Persona management software” can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual “people” could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.

***

That’s precisely what got DailyKos blogger Happy Rockefeller in a snit: the potential for military-run armies of fake people manipulating and, in some cases, even manufacturing the appearance of public opinion.

“I don’t know about you, but it matters to me what fellow progressives think,” the blogger wrote. “I consider all views. And if there appears to be a consensus that some reporter isn’t credible, for example, or some candidate for congress in another state can’t be trusted, I won’t base my entire judgment on it, but it carries some weight.

“That’s me. I believe there are many people though who will base their judgment on rumors and mob attacks. And for those people, a fake mob can be really effective.”

***

“Team Themis” [tasked by the Chamber of Commerce to come up with strategies for responding to progressive bloggers and others] also included a proposal to use malware hacks against progressive organizations, and the submission of fake documents in an effort to discredit established groups.

HBGary was also behind a plot by Bank of America to destroy WikiLeaks’ technology platform, other emails revealed. The company was humiliated by members of “Anonymous” after CEO Aaron Barr bragged that he’d “infiltrated” the group.

And see this, this, this, this.

Wired reported last year:

The Pentagon is looking to build a tool to sniff out social media propaganda campaigns and spit some counter-spin right back at it.

On Thursday, Defense Department extreme technology arm Darpa unveiled its Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program. It’s an attempt to get better at both detecting and conducting propaganda campaigns on social media. SMISC has two goals. First, the program needs to help the military better understand what’s going on in social media in real time — particularly in areas where troops are deployed. Second, Darpa wants SMISC to help the military play the social media propaganda game itself.

This is more than just checking the trending topics on Twitter. The Defense Department wants to deeply grok social media dynamics. So SMISC algorithms will be aimed at discovering and tracking the “formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes)” on social media, according to Darpa’s announcement.

***

SMISC needs to be able to seek out “persuasion campaign structures and influence operations” developing across the social sphere. SMISC is supposed to quickly flag rumors and emerging themes on social media, figure out who’s behind it and what. Moreover, Darpa wants SMISC to be able to actually figure out whether this is a random product of the hivemind or a propaganda operation by an adversary nation or group.

Of course, SMISC won’t be content to just to hang back and monitor social media trends in strategic locations. It’s about building a better spin machine for Uncle Sam, too. Once SMISC’s latches on to an influence operation being launched, it’s supposed to help out in “countermessaging.”

***

SMISC is yet another example of how the military is becoming very interested in what’s going on in the social media sphere.

Gene Howington writes that mainstream media – including NPR – have used propaganda on American audiences to shape the debate on numerous issues:

Consider the use of media outlets like NPR that made a public and conscious decision to refrain from reporting on “torture” – a word with extremely negative denotation and connotation – and instead choosing to use the euphemistic language “enhanced interrogation”. Everyone with a conscience thinks torture is a bad thing and torturers are ethically abhorrent people. It’s not only a Federal crime, cruel and unusual punishment is specifically barred by the 8th Amendment of the Constitution. The word choice here is designed to clearly shift public attitudes from “those guys need to be prosecuted as criminals” to “maybe they aren’t so bad after all”. NPR (aided by the Bush Administration no doubt)  chose words with a neutral/positive value load compared to the word “torture”.  Connotation plays to your emotional response over your rational response.  When the word choice becomes more subtle, the damage of connotations can be even more insidious. Compare:

  • war – limited police action
  • conquest – liberation
  • famine – widespread hunger
  • pestilence – outbreak
  • death – casualties

Indeed – in the ultimate Kafkaesque nightmare – the Pentagon recently used black propaganda to smear USA Today reporters who were investigating illegal Pentagon propaganda.

Virtually Everything Government Does Is Propaganda

It is a sad fact that virtually everything government does these days is propaganda.

For example, the government has tried to corral the American public into a certain view on the economy: One that says that the big banks are more or less healthy, that they must be saved at all costs, that we need not prosecute Wall Street fraud, and that an economic recovery is just around the corner.

Indeed, in response to virtually every problem, the government puts out spin covering up the severity of the crisis and pretending that the problem was “unexpected” and that it won’t happen again … so we can keep on doing the exact same thing. This is true in regards to the financial crisis, Wall Street fraud, nuclear accidents, oil spills, groundwater pollution and a host of other problems.

Indeed, it sometimes seem like the only thing the government does these days is to provide propaganda on behalf of special interests so they can make more money.

 

 

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